Philly Beer Week

Before I start, I will get this out there right away–I don’t drink beer. It’s not exactly that I don’t like beer–I actually do–it’s more that I prefer wine. By a lot. I also find beer so incredibly filling, so it is rarely an option for me.

We do buy beer once in a while when we have a party for my wife’s co-workers there (they are not much of a wine crowd for some reason). I bought a couple of cases back in October for one such event and we still have at least 36 bottles down in the basement. (That is an important distinction: beer is stored in the basement, while the wine is stored in the cellar. Yes, it is the same physical space, but far from the same metaphorical area.)

I have been fortunate enough to stay married for almost 13 years now. When we got married, back in 2001, I also bought a bunch of beer for the reception. I think in all, I got four cases of some pretty good beer: Grolsch, Hoegarden, Rodenbach, Heineken (OK, one of those beers does not belong on the list of “pretty good”, but a certain someone told me I had to buy it since it was the only beer some members of her family would drink).

At the end of the reception, we had close to three cases left.

Rookie pouring technique.

Rookie pouring technique.

That took us (mainly me) just short of five years to go through.

Five years.

So I am not a big beer guy.

I do lead the occasional bike trip in Belgium though, so I am not a complete beer-o-phyte, but I am by no means an expert. (But, for you beer fans out there, I have had Westvleteren 12 on several occasions….)

Several months ago, a fellow cycling tour guide and his girlfriend came over for dinner. He no longer really leads trips, but he lives here in Philly so we get together once in a while. He now works for Moosehead Breweries Limited, and he brought over a few of their newer beers to have me try.

To make a very long and complicated story rather brief, the world of beer is getting smaller, I guess. The larger companies are buying up each other as well as buying up the smaller producers. Although Moosehead is by no means huge, they are acquiring the North American distribution rights for many smaller companies that would not be able to do it themselves. So while they are not technically acquiring these brands, they are distributing the beer in North America for them.

If that makes sense.

This week is Philly Beer Week (which lasts 10 days) and although I have yet to ever participate in any of the events around town, I did draft (see what I did there?) my neighbor to sit out on the stoop and give these beers a whirl.20140604-091147.jpg

The first two beers were made by Hop City Brewing Company in Brampton, Ontario. I know that really hoppy beers are all the rage these days (or at least I thought I heard that once), but not really up my alley. Nonetheless, I popped these two first.

Hop City Mr. Huff: This was not an IPA, but just a regular pale ale–I am not quite sure what the difference is, but my neighbor assured me there is one. The nose was a bit nutty and bitter with some burnt caramel. On the palate, it was a bit of a one trick pony–bitter. I knew immediately that this was not my favorite, and it was the first we tasted. Average, I guess. C+/B-

20140604-091202.jpgHop City Barking Squirrel: OK, I was worried–just about anytime I see some sort of “critter” on the label of a bottle of winel, I basically run the other way since it usually indicates a cheap, rather uninteresting wine. I figured (hoped) that beer might be different.  A bit less harsh than the Mr. Huff, but still nutty and a bitter. The caramel here is sweeter (or less burnt) so more agreeable. Still a whole lot of hoppiness going on. Good. B/B- [A small sample size, certainly, but the “critter clause” seems to hold….]

Haacht Primus: This is the main bottling from Haacht, which remains an independent producer in Boortmeerbeek, Belgium. While there is not a whole lot going on here, I find it much more agreeable than the previous two. Flavorful yet restrained, this has character without the big hop stick. Good to Very Good. Solid B.
Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale: This beer was originally made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (they call the beer the “Bottle of Britain”). The brewer describes it as “characteristically Kentish” which apparently means rather hoppy. The hoppiness here works better than the Hop City beers, as it is balanced by some citrus notes and a hidden sweetness. Very Good. Solid B+
The last two beers are both produced by the Haact Brewery in Belgium, but they were originally made at the Tongerlo Abbey near Antwerp, Belgium.
20140604-091221.jpgTongerlo Blond: This is a Belgian Dubbel, which is a bit in my wheelhouse. I have led bike trips in Belgium for years, and while I am there I try my fair share of Belgian Ales (OK, the Belgians probably put me to shame, but…). A slight orange color with a nutty honey nose. A bit of caramel and spice are thrown in on the palate. This was a step higher than the Spitfire for me. Very Good to maybe more. B+/A-
Tongerlo Prior: A Belgian Trappist style Tripel, that even though is stronger in terms of alcohol than the other Tongerlo, it is also lighter in color, but still some similar attributes. I would say this beer is a bit more refined, with deeper flavors. Outstanding. Solid A-
All-in-all, I guess it is no surprise that I chose the two Belgians as the top beers. I guess I am even more of a beer snob than a wine snob.
If that is even possible.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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24 Responses to Philly Beer Week

  1. talkavino says:

    There is nothing wrong with occasional glass of beer, even for the hard core wine drinker… Anr there are soooooo many options! And Belgian beer is generally a stand out for me.


    • Yeah, I know there is nothing wrong, but I just prefer wine in almost every instance. Beer to me just does not hold the same allure–every year it is essentially the same; there are no vintages in beer. Therefore, I have concluded that it is essentially chemistry to make beer. I never liked chemistry in school.


      • talkavino says:

        well, different batches can be different – I don’t believe it is all the same, at least for the craft brewers… Also, some of the beer now is aged in oak. And then you got companies, such as Brew Dog…


  2. Theresa says:

    If it isn’t a stout, tripel or dunkels weiss, it collects dust in our house while it waits for someone to drink it at the next party….or to get turned into a radler. Nice glass, by the way.


  3. Nancy Chovancek says:

    My husband used to drink beer all the time. He was even a Brewmaster and had all the equipment. A doctor’s “strong suggestion” urged him to quit drinking beer due to high liver counts (he needs to take quarterly physicals because he’s in the military). So, he quit beer and switched to red wine. No more liver issues!!! Plus, we sold all the beer equipment and have extra space in the garage! Yay for me!


  4. I was always very anti-beer until I studied in Oviedo. The Spanish (at least the Northerners) are pretty big beer drinkers, so I had to be willing to drink a beer every now and then. Unfortunately, the place I studied wasn’t like the U.S. in that you had two, maybe three, options on draft. I never came to love beer there, but I was willing to drink it once I came back to the States. I’ve come to really enjoy sour beers, which might be a good style for you to try if you haven’t yet.


  5. Antisocial Patty says:

    I only like dark beer on tap, so you’re a better beer drinker than I am. I saw an interesting documentary called Beer Wars on Netflix. It explained the whole distribution thing, and how the powerhouses control almost everything. I pretty much only drink local beers anymore, if I can help it.


  6. dwdirwin says:

    Interesting seeing you put your reviewing skills to use for beer. My husband has been known to brew a little beer at our house- though we really don’t have the room anymore since our house is also a storage facility for some of our label inventory 🙂 The comment about basement vs cellar cracked me up.


  7. paigesato says:

    Two thoughts: 1. I’m going to Belgium this summer and have been told under no circumstances should I miss the Westvleteren. So I won’t. and 2. Doesn’t Walter White prove that it’s all in the chemistry?


  8. nice post… makes me want to drink beer.. and I would drink that beer in your post , order another one or two… then I would steal the glass.. 🙂


  9. I totally appreciate your comments, and my family came from Canada, and the men all adhered to that famous billboard that was in downtown Detroit to steal some of the thunder from Vernor’s, the billboard read “Drink Canada Dry,” but everyone I knew read it as “Drink Canada, Dry.” I grew up on Molson’s Canadian Bier and Johnny Labatt’s Cream Porter, but the porter was discontinued by some genius in Montreal. I am glad to see that the basement is not filled with Stroh’s to contaminate your holdings in the cellar.


    • Stroh’s! Now there is a name from my adolescence! During high school, I was known to toss back a beer or two at parties, but never Stroh’s. Well, there was once, but the following morning I vowed never again!


  10. Philly Beer Week but not a single beer from Philly? Maybe your version isn’t meant to promote local breweries like the Arizona one. But, come on, support the local guys! Actually, that’s one of the few things I like about beer more so than wine. Every major city (and a hell of a lot of minor cities) now have really good, locally produced beers.
    I’d be surprised if the beer world is actually getting smaller, at least in the US. I just read an article that said the US reached 2700 breweries last year. That’s still only about a third the number of wineries, but more than at any time since the 1870s. The big breweries are definitely consolidating and buying up some of the regional guys, but from my perspective small craft brewers are what make the beer world interesting.
    I really like beer, but unfortunately it doesn’t like me so well. I get a headache and wake up with night sweats if I drink more than one or two, so it’s less and less of an option for me. I’ve also never found beer to be as good of a pairing with food as wine. But that being said, I’ve still managed to register 219 distinct beer tastings on the social beer app, Untappd since I started using it about 18 months ago (By the way, I really wish there was an app for the wine world that was as good.)
    By the way, you should really store your beer in die Bierkeller. Maybe it would feel a little less under-appreciated that way. 🙂


    • No, I am sure that Philly Beer Week promotes local beers at least to a certain extent, but seeing that I do not attend any of the events, I am only guessing. I got the beers in this post as a gift and they were frankly just gathering dust, so I used PBW as an excuse to clear them out.
      I agree about your assessment of the beer world–the small ones make it interesting. I am not sure if we suffer from the same “malady” but as soon as I have a beer, I get really gassy. Not in a good way (if there is a good way to be gassy).


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